Joe Biden pledged support to transgender Americans in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

On Wednesday night (28 April), the Democratic president promoted several of his proposed measures, from American Jobs Plan to American Families Plan and police reform, before informing transgender youth that he stands behind them.

“I also hope Congress can get to my desk the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans,” said Biden. “To all the transgender Americans watching at home — especially the young people who are so brave — I want you to know that your president has your back.”

Biden’s comments come as state legislatures from across the country are considering various bills specifically targeting transgender youth on issues from medical care to participation in school sports.

Last year, at least 44 known transgender individuals were murdered in the United States due to intolerance and bigotry – marking 2020 as the “most violent year on record” since the Human Rights Campaign began tracking these crimes in 2013.

Violence against transgender Americans has shown no signs of slowing down. So far, just four months into 2021, there have been 17 transgender fatalities.

The president previously vowed to sign the Equality Act into law in his first 100 days of office. While the House passed the Act by a vote of 224 to 206 on 25 February, it was moved onto the Republican-controlled Senate for consideration.

The new Equality Act aims to bring the LGBTQ+ community closer to universal quality, protecting LGBTQ+ citizens from discrimination in fields such as housing, employment, finances and schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Biden’s speech about the Equality Act and transgender Americans was praised by LGBTQ+ activists, such as Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President.

“The Biden administration has made it clear through their actions that they are allies in the fight for equality and justice for LGBTQ people here in the United States and across the globe,” he said in a statement.

“And tonight, we were pleased to hear the president tell Congress directly that passing the Equality Act remains a top priority of his administration, and must be a top priority for the United States Senate. Equality and justice are not partisan goals — they are the bedrock on which our country was founded.

“LGBTQ people continue to face discrimination in many areas including health care, housing, education and other critical areas of life; bias-motivated violence; and other limits on our ability to fully and freely live our lives.

“Especially in this moment, when LGBTQ rights are under attack in several states across the country, it was important to see President Biden make it clear tonight that his priority would be continuing our shared fight to ensure that every American has access to the fullness of opportunity our country affords.

“To that point, we were especially heartened to hear the president specifically uplift his support for transgender people and particularly affirm transgender kids.”

David said Biden has made it clear that he supports “many more policies that are critical to the LGBTQ+ community” in the United States, from affordable healthcare, vaccines, gun control, voting rights, police reform and immigration reform.

“The Human Rights Campaign applauds the president’s speech tonight, his actions over his first 100 days in office, and the clear drive his administration has to make our country safer and more equal for all,” he added.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, NextGen America Executive Director, said the United States was reminded after four years of a Trump-Pence presidency what it “sounds like to have a strong, empathetic leadership in the White House”.

“President Biden’s first 100 days have brought us much-needed pandemic relief and plans to improve the country on everything from college affordability to LGBTQ+ rights and police reform,” she said.

“We have a great deal of work to do, but young people’s record turnout has brought us a future full of possibility. In addition to pushing his bold legislative agenda through Congress, the president should take immediate action to cancel at least $50,000 per borrower in student loan debt.”

History was also made when two women stood behind Biden in the presidential podium for the first time: Vice President Kamala Harris and speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi. “Madam speaker, madam vice president,” said Biden. “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”

Related: What does Joe Biden’s win mean for LGBTQ+ people?